After a pause due to a serious cold, I can continue my blog on Isaiah.
The Lord said to me, “Take a large tablet, and write on it in easily readable letters; ‘Quick pickings, easy prey.’” 2 I had it witnessed for me by reliable witnesses — Uriyah the cohen and Z’kharyahu the son of Y’verekhyahu. 3 Then I had sexual relations with my wife; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son; and The Lord said to me, “Name him Quick Pickings Easy Prey, 4 because before the child knows how to cry, ‘Dada’ and ‘Mama’ the riches of Dammesek and the spoil of Shomron will be carried off and given to the king of Ashur.” 5 The Lord went on speaking and said more to me:
6 “Since this people has rejected
the gently flowing waters from Shilo’ach
and trembles before Retzin and the son of Remalyah;
7 now the Lord will bring upon them
the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates River —
the king of Ashur and his power.
It will rise above all its channels
and overflow all its banks.
8 It will sweep through Y’hudah,
flooding everything and passing on.
It will reach even up to the neck,
and its outspread wings
will fill the whole expanse of the land.”
God is with us!
9 You may make an uproar, peoples;
but you will be shattered.
Listen, all of you from distant lands:
arm yourselves, but you will be shattered;
yes, arm yourselves,
but you will be shattered;
10 devise a plan, but it will come to nothing;
say anything you like, but it won’t happen;
because God is with us
11 For this is what The Lord said to me, speaking with a strong hand, warning me not to live the way this people does:
12 “Don’t regard as alliance what this people calls alliance,
and don’t fear what they fear or be awestruck by it;
13 but The Lord of Armies — consecrate him!
Let him be the object of your fear and awe!
14 He is there to be a trap
But for both the houses of Isra’el
he will be a stone to stumble over,
a rock obstructing their way;
a trap and a snare
for the inhabitants of Yerushalayim.
15 Many of them will stumble and fall,
be broken and trapped and captured.
16 Wrap up this document, and conceal its teaching from my disciples.”
17 I will wait for The Lord
who is hiding his face
from the house of Ya‘akov;
yes, I will look eagerly for him.
18 Meanwhile, I and the children
whom Adonai has given me
will become for Isra’el
signs and wonders
from The Lord of Armies
Who lives on Mount Tziyon.
19 So when they tell you to consult
those squeaking, squawking mediums and fortune-tellers;
you are to answer
“Shouldn’t a people seek their God?
Must the living ask the dead
20 for teaching and instruction?”
For they will indeed give you
Words that bring no dawn.
The prophets of Israel were not careful to separate their family lives from their calling. Here Isaiah’s newborn child is named Quick Pickings Easy Prey because Assyria will find little opposition in its invasion of Syria and Samaria. How did Isaiah address his child? Did he ever apologise for making him a placard for his message? My guess is that he didn’t and that we should reckon with the fact that the prophets of Israel were not bound to the conventions of polite 21st century clergymen. Although Isaiah may have had religio/ scribal duties in the court which he would have performed with perfect propriety, his calling as a prophet sets him apart as a vehicle for Yahweh’s Word, which is politically direct and dissident, expressed often in unconventional words and actions.
How did he know he was communicating “Yahweh’s Word” rather than his own opinion? Ancient shamanic and prophetic traditions offered training in the kind of listening required for hearing and understanding a God’s word. These included forms of prayer, use of drugs, fasting, special bodily postures, etc, but also, in almost all cases, sophisticated access to the relevant political facts.
We may guess that Isaiah spent time “listening” to Yahweh, for example, in Temple worship and prayer, as well as on his own, but he clearly had a “social network” which kept him up to date with local and international politics.
After mentioning the imminent catastrophe in Syria and Samaria, he turns to Judah, his own people, and accuses them of turning from their own sources of life, the waters of Shiloach which in his lifetime were brought through rock to the citadel, but had formerly been taken by aqueduct. This quiet supply of life is Isaiah’s metaphor for God, which may in turn have encouraged Jesus’ metaphor of living water. Becuase the people have neglected the quiet strength of God and have made an alliance with Assur, they will be overwhelmed by its great river of power, becoming never more than a vassal of that state.
Even so, says Isaiah, all is not lost, for God is with us, a deliver has been promised.
For this reason, foreign peoples are warned not to trust in their plans for Judah.
Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s intimate instruction to his prophet telling not to be deceived by the language of the people and its rulers, which processes surrender as smart policy. The smooth conduct of surrender to Assur will be made difficult by the Lord acting as a tripstone or stumblingblock, getting in the way of an easy relationship with the superpower. It’s not clear exactly what Isaiah thinks the Lord will do, but the discovery that God can get in the road of your policies is important: Jesus is also described as a trip-stone to his enemies. We have to credit the prophet with insights into the nature of God which are of permanent value.
Our excerpt ends with a passage in which Isaiah recounts his trust in the God who hides from his people, and asks his prophet to hide his most intimate knowledge of God even from his own disciples. God hides because his wisdom has been rejected by his people. Yet the prophet’s public actions, especially the naming of his children, are an open witness to God’s truth.
The gibberng and squeaking of the mediums who purport to voice the wisdom of the dead, are mocked. Can wisdom for the living come from the dead? Isaiah is clear that God ahould be consulted, through his prophet.